Updated: Apr 6
Phil has been involved in fencing for over 40 years and became a full time coach in 2012.
It all started rather simply, fencing once a week at Liberton High School with George Hansen, one of the PE teachers. When I went to Aberdeen University, I started taking it a bit more seriously and in my second year, Neil Brown arrived as a student and we worked well together and I started getting some modest results. So I decided to take a year out and go to Budapest, where I trained at Honved. I came back to the UK and trained with Dereck Titherage who helped me make the 1986 Commonwealth Fencing Championships Team. After the Commonwealths I wanted to see how far I could go in the sport. After moving to London to the Poly Club, where I was coached by Bela Imrigi, I fenced briefly for GB before an injury took me out of competitive fencing.
They say that if you can't do, teach. Sometimes that is meant in a negative sense, but for me it was the start of an amazing journey.
My coaching was then, and still is to this day, driven by an intense curiosity about what the game of fencing entails and the apparent lack of limitations that individuals have to learn, adapt and perform at ever greater levels. I've also discovered that the harder I work, the more I understand how much I have yet to learn. I started my coach education with the British Academy of Fencing and was hugely influenced and supported by Norman Golding and Bob Bales. This solid technical basis took me so far, but it was spending time with some great coaches including Peter Frohlich, Vladimir Diachenko and Ed Korfanty that propelled my coaching towards a more solid tactical game.
These days I don't think of success in terms of win and loss. To me, they are basically the same thing, a moment in time, the end of the bout, the conclusion of an amazing sporting experience. To think of the win as better or the loss as worse is such a waste of energy. Only two questions are relevant - What went well and what can we do even better next time? What do we need to work on?
The more people tell me something can't be done, the more motivated I get.
I started Salle Ossian and set up the first training centre for the sport in Scotland to give kids the opportunity to practice as often as they wanted to reach their goals. I understand that there is no such thing as talent, or that all kids are talented and that nothing works like hard work works. Every year, as a club we take stock and ask the same two questions - what has gone well and how can we make it even better? and what do we have to work on? Over the years, Salle Ossian has won local events, regional and national titles and have competed well at Commonwealth and cadet and junior internationals. That's great, but it is the quality of the coaching, the culture and the environment that enables this, so I guess my ambition is to continuously improve those factors to make it the best training experience I can for the fencers.
If you get those right, the results look after themselves.